Episode 70 – Capturing Activity Data with Ben Pirillo

In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast we chat with Ben Pirrilo a Physical Education teacher from Dallas, Texas with a real passion for leveraging technologies in his practice. We talk about how an older brother inspired him to create a YouTube channel that has gone on to become a major resource for teachers around the globe. Throughout the episode we dive into how Ben uses the GOPHER FITstep Pro pedometers to capture authentic activity data in his classroom & the processes he uses to successfully manage these with his students.

Resources & topics shared in this episode include

  1. Ben’s Website
  2. GOPHER FITstep Pro Pedometers
  3. Monsuta Fitness
  4. Dynamic QR Codes

Press play to listen to the episode below or listen here. Alternatively, download a full episode transcript here


[00:00:29] Jarrod Robinson:  Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the PE Geek podcast and as always it’s an absolute pleasure to have you listening and as I always mention time is the greatest asset that you have so the fact that you would sit here and listen to a podcast is really meaningful to us. So I’m really excited today because we have another guest, a phys ed teacher in Ben Pirillo, how are you Ben?

[00:00:51] Ben Pirillo:  I’m doing fantastic.

[00:00:54] Jarrod Robinson:  Awesome. So it’s 8:30 for you at the moment?

[00:00:58] Ben Pirillo:  Yes, yes, currently 8:30 in the evening.

[00:01:01] Jarrod Robinson: And where abouts are you based?

[00:01:03] Ben Pirillo: I’m based in Texas, Dallas Metroplex area.

[00:01:08] Jarrod Robinson: Okay and you’re teaching what sort of spread of classes?

[00:01:13] Ben Pirillo: I am teaching kindergarten through fifth grade and I absolutely love it.

[00:01:19] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, so I mean when did you get involved in phys ed? Is it something that you grew up with, having a passion about? Or was there a logical time or situation in your schooling that made this realization for you that you wanted to teach phys ed?

[00:01:33] Ben Pirillo: Yeah, I really, going through high school didn’t really think about teaching, I was going to be an accountant, my dad and I were going to open up a business together. When I took econ in high school some of the stuff didn’t make sense to me, so I’m like well that might not be the path for me.

So I went into college undecided of what I wanted to do and at my university they had a place we could go to and talk to people about things that interest you and stuff like that. I knew I liked to exercise, I knew I liked all that whole concept of lifting weights and all that. So they were thinking the health formation or health and I’m like okay.

Then I started looking through some of the stuff that was offered at the school and I saw physical education, non-teaching. So I contact them, I say what’s the difference. They said well we don’t have a non-teaching degree, only teaching. I’m like okay well if I get a teaching degree they’ll see that I can work well with different levels.

So I started going that route and they put into a classroom during that first semester and I fell in love. I’m like oh my God this is awesome, this is me. I love the whole concept. So I kind of fell into it it feels like, but I’m so glad that I found that path because I just love what I do and the fact that I can go to work every day and loving my job is just phenomenal.

[00:02:58] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah for sure and I can tell that with the work that you do, there’s this real passion and enthusiasm not only to honestly work with the group of kids that you work with but to share it. So you have a website that you happen to share a lot of stuff on. Where can people find that?

[00:03:12] Ben Pirillo: Yes, I do. It is at teachphysed.weebly.com.

[00:03:20] Jarrod Robinson: I know for a fact that people do love the videos and stuff that you produce, the dance videos. Where did that come as an idea for you?

[00:03:30] Ben Pirillo: Yeah, that’s well okay my older brother’s a big YouTuber and he kind of said dude you need to start a channel and I’m like well I have no idea what I would do. He’s like oh just even showing games or something. I’m like okay, so out of fun one day I made a little video of, it’s something I kind of wanted to do just for my students.

So I made a little video to, I can’t remember even what song it was, I want to say it was Moves Like Jagger and I made this little video and I got so many comments on it and I think it was primarily because my brother and they were trying to get him to dance but people just, more people watched it that would follow me and this was all the beginning process and they were like this is so cool, I can see myself doing this every day. I’m like okay, well I’m just going to turn this into a thing.

So now I try during the school year once a week to record some kind of dance video or basically move to the song, exercise to the songs really. So I just kind of rotate around and this just really kind of snowballs and I’ll get, I love hearing the comments from being, I love seeing the pictures of the kids doing the activities.

So that whole aspect of the YouTube channel just kind of came together, kind of fell into that one too I guess you could say. But it was, it’s a fun, I enjoyed trying to figure out what to do and what songs to make to do moderate to vigorous to or live where they’re sitting down to drum theater, the aerobic drumming whatever you’d want to call that. So I love piecing that together.

I still have my other section, I call it my Teach Phys Ed Area, which is the games and activities I use in my students and I also put that I had those posts and I tried again posting those once a week on my channel and I link it all through my website, that’s the best way to go because if you go to the website there’s an area for the videos and you can go there and it’s laid out very easily to find different songs instead of having to search.

[00:05:24] Jarrod Robinson: Awesome. So I’ve seen a few photos of this in action, of people using the dances that you’ve produced and is the common way that people set it up is they have may have a laptop station and different dances happening, is that one way that you’ve seen it used?

[00:05:40] Ben Pirillo: Yeah, mostly I’ve seen it used where people are projecting on the ways, so they’ll have their laptop looked up to the projector and obviously their sound because sound of the sound in the videos is not the greatest. I’ve found a better way to do it. So they’ll hook it up through their speakers and they’ll play it that way and project it on the wall and the whole class will follow along and participate kind of like the just dance video game. So they just mirror along and follow along for the movements and stuff like that. That’s that primary, main reason, main reason, main way I’ve seen it used. I know I’ve heard from classroom teachers as well, especially my campus who use them with their students during the various activities during the day and stuff or indoor recess even.

[00:06:24] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, that’s so powerful too because like we know often there’s a lot of situations where people loose gyms and lose spaces to whether and all sorts of situation so it something that you could do in limited space I believe.

[00:06:38] Ben Pirillo: Yeah, yeah. In fact, power went out in our school and I’m like okay what can I do? I had my laptop, it was still connected to Wi-Fi so I was able to pull up, and of course you know it’s dark, we’re in a hallway and I’m like hey I can do the ones where I’m sitting down, so it was a great tool for me to go too and I was like oh. So we pulled up a bunch of the old videos, so I sat them down and there’s my little kindergarteners doing right along with the video, so they got a little exercise in and everything even with the power out. So it was pretty cool. So yeah, it’s a nice tool to have, to go to.

[00:07:10] Jarrod Robinson: That arsenal of things that you can draw on when you need it. So we’ll link to your website and the videos in the show notes for anyone listening that’s the pegeek.com/70 for episode 70. But the other thing that I wanted to talk to you about and I sort of think of you every time I hear the word is the FITstep Pro pedometers, like where did you get involved in starting to use these?

[00:07:34] Ben Pirillo: Let’s see, maybe five years ago. Someone from Gopher came out to our school district and was showing them, I think it was Bob Pangrazi who actually came if I’m not mistaken and he was showing us about these and he was talking about the MVPA that monitored the big risk is for activity level. I’m like these things are awesome, I could do so much more having those as a tool for my students than just a regular step counter.

So about three years ago I purchased one set and then two years ago I purchased a second set so I had enough for my groups, I have a really weird schedule how they rotate through to me, but I love them. So I have two groups that stay with me the entire time so those are my students that wear the pedometers and the second I put them on them, one group had the FITsteps Pros and one group didn’t and they’re all like well the kids that didn’t oh man, when can we wear those, I’m like your day is blah, blah, blah. So I made sure when I started out everybody had a change to wear them at least once during the week between the two sets that I had.

So now it’s just great because the kids love them, they can thumb through, they can look at where they’re at in class and see how active they’ve been. My class is about 50 minutes long, so they can see where they’re at any point, they can open it up and look and everything.

[00:09:03] Jarrod Robinson: So they’re like rolling into your class, what’s the process for them to get their pedometer. Is there something that you’ve set up for that?

[00:09:12] Ben Pirillo: Yeah, what I’ve been doing is on my whiteboard I’ll write down, this year we’ve been writing, in the past I just kind of had a little sheet of paper but the kids had a hard time seeing it, so now I’ve been writing it on the board saying these two groups this is the color pedometer you’re going to grab. So when they come in they immediately just grab it out of the bin that I have it in. I just have them right now in the storage bins that they came in from the company.

So I’m looking at through in the pocket chart which I know a lot of people have done, just to get up off the floor. So they just grab it, once they’re done with that they’re continue on to whatever warm up activity that we’re doing either we’re jogging or the dance video or we’re playing a tagging game or something. That’s pretty quick, they’re bam bam, they’re in, they got those things going, they’re ready to go right away.

[00:10:01]Jarrod Robinson: Yeah it’s good, it seems to be a really seamless experience because a lot of people’s frustration would be that it wouldn’t be and it’s the complete opposite with the Gopher FITstep Pros and just integrates really well into your class. So how is your teaching changes since that you’ve used it?

[00:10:18] Ben Pirillo: I have notice that it’s really helped me to make sure the activities I choose are appropriate for the activity level I need the students to be at because here we have to make sure that our students based off what the state says that they have to be in the MVPA area for at least 50% of the time that they’re with me. So I really had to make sure the activities I’m choosing are able to get them that activity level and if I tweak it a little bit here and there it really helps them out.

So it just, the way my class is split up is I like a first half where I have my fitness activity, so it’s a lot of intense, that’s where get most of their MVPA in and then I have my second one, activity which is could be working on the skill building activity, it could be actually working on the skill prior to the main activity. So and so I make sure whatever I’m doing at least one of those two lessons is highly active for them to reach their Moderate and Vigorous Activity Level.

[00:11:26] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, I just think about how much of a benefit it must be to have access to that sort of data in terms of reflecting on the class and preparing for others. It must be challenging for schools that didn’t or don’t have access to some of this technology, would that be true?

[00:11:42] Ben Pirillo: Yeah, yeah, definitely because it’s just such a nice tool to even judge yourself on. Am I talking too much? Am I giving too much instruction to kids or are we wasting too much time? Like I said because we have to be, we have to hit that moderate, that 50%. So I feel like it’s a very strong tool if people can find a way to purchase them then yeah I definitely would say go for it because they’re awesome.

[00:12:11] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, so we’ll link in the show notes to what they are and where you can find out more information about them at Gopher. So another thing I’ve noticed with you and we’ve sort of touched on it already here is this interest in technology, obviously the video, the YouTube channel, your website and obviously the FITstep Pro. So where did your interest in technology emerge?

[00:12:33] Ben Pirillo: I’d probably say my older brother because for a while I wasn’t into technology but I really wasn’t into it into it like I am now. Once he kind of turned me on to doing this, using YouTube channel and stuff, gosh I was doing an ask me anything interview thing with him and me so that his fans could ask me questions and one of them was asking me about the Bug and the Fitbit and which would I prefer and I looked at the video camera, I go the what and the what.

So I felt so embarrassed because I had never heard of them and I’m thinking oh my goodness I always thought I was kind up on technology and that kind of opened my eyes like maybe I’m not. So then I got to submerge myself in this and that’s what I did. So after that it just has been a passion like trying to find the latest craze, the best that’s out there to bring to my students so they can have enjoyable experience with it. That’s I think where it came from and I love seeing little gadgets and I’ll go to the store and I’ll see some kind of device that could be used, I’m like okay how could I use that.

[00:13:43] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah it shows and it reflects this enthusiasm for learning that you have too which you ultimately want them to have, like it’s, you’re actually show casing the thing that you’re trying to have them ultimately leave your class with. So I love it, I think it works on so many levels. So what are you exploring with at that moment? Is there anything that comes to mind that you’re interested in trialing or using or you’ve seen but would like to get access to or maybe something that you’ve done that you thought was a real hit.

[00:14:12] Ben Pirillo: Well it various, there’s a couple different things that I really like that’s coming out, the Blacktop PE that Vitathread has put together, that looks very, that’s very handy and I’m looking forward to seeing that some more. I’ve been able to get my hands on that thanks to the company.

[00:14:28] Jarrod Robinson: So what does it do?

[00:14:29] Ben Pirillo: It is an assessment app. So it has every assessment you could think of under the sun all underneath one and they have in a portal, a web portal and so you can access it from that iPad and you can pull up your class and you can pull up the kids and you can assess three different things at one time and it’s just really neat and handy and click the buttons and your results can be emailed to you and [00:14:55] (unclear) black log or whatnot and saved. So you can pull it up at any time and assess it as many times as you want. It’s really, really cool. The other of course is the app you’re working on that, I can’t even say it right.

[00:15:09] Jarrod Robinson: Monsuta.

[00:15:10] Ben Pirillo: The Monsuta, there you go. I’m very excited about that, I’m like oh got to get, I’m like when you posted that I’m like okay I’m sold, I’m sold. I want that because I’m very excited because I like the fact that it’s bringing more exercise into it instead of just walking and going and being able as a teacher to plot different places.

[00:15:34] Jarrod Robinson: Well I must say you’re a real catalyst in its development to go from it just being this little informal, something that was cool, but you made it become may more than it would have been if I hadn’t have had the conversation with you initially around where it should head like to close it down to schools and make it a little bit more secure and give a bit more control to schools. So I want to thank you for that. The Monsuta name, do you know where that comes from?

[00:16:02] Ben Pirillo: No.

[00:16:02] Jarrod Robinson: It’s actually Japanese for monster, that’s the tie-in there.

[00:16:08] Ben Pirillo: That’s awesome.

[00:16:08] Jarrod Robinson: It is. I’m really happy with where it’s progressed and if you’re interested in finding out more about it head to monsuta.fitness and you can find out there about how you create and craft experiences for students. So yeah, thanks for mentioning that.

Along the way with the tech journey have you ever made any mistakes, you’ve tried something and it hasn’t been a success or you mentioned the other day the Wi-Fi and the power and things went out. Any moments that come to mind like that?

[00:16:37] Ben Pirillo: Yes. I don’t know what a dynamic QR code was until recently, last two weeks. I had some issues with Google changing some things where it used to be the animated gifs would automatically play in Google Drive, so have QR codes like everywhere that would play animated gifs. I have it on different things that I, my website and stuff too and I’m like oh my goodness they changed it, it’s not playing.

I was talking to Kevin Turn and he’s like dude didn’t you do dynamic QR codes and I’m like no what are those and then told me basically you could just go in and change the link and you don’t have to change the code. Oh my gosh I wish I would have known that before. I have had and I spent a long time, but I’ve made them all into dynamic codes now so hopefully I’ll only change links if they change it. But yeah I think that was a big oops on technology. I did have another one.

[00:17:36] Jarrod Robinson: Did that happen during the time, did you go to scan the QR code and realize the content that it linked to was no longer working or was that in class or was it just outside of the classroom setting?

[00:17:47] Ben Pirillo: It was outside the classroom setting because I was aiming for, it might been for a presentation I want to say too, it scanned and it wasn’t playing, I thought oh it’s just the connection’s not very strong. Then I started thinking about it some more and I kept scanning it and I’m like it’s just the still image, why is this and then I found I think they changed a few things, it’s going to happen. I never thought it would. So yeah and so that’s when that happens, I quickly rushed to try and fix as many of them that I could as fast as I could. I think I got them all now, I’ve got my fingers crossed.

[00:18:25] Jarrod Robinson: Awesome and you mentioned another thing as well.

[00:18:30] Ben Pirillo: Oh yeah, another one I ran into, speaking of QR codes is I had to link videos and I don’t know if was just the Wi-Fi service that the iPads were working or if I had too many iPads going on at one time. But I had for a while, I scanned my QR codes and it would pop a dance video. So the kids wouldn’t know what they were scanning, it was just a code. So they scan it and then they’d play the video and they would dance to it, and I had probably ten or fifteen iPads.

It was really, when it worked it was working solid. But we would scan some codes and it would just take forever for the videos to pull up and some would just never pull up. Eventually I didn’t necessarily give up on it but I haven’t done it since then so I don’t know what, I don’t know if I should, I probably should just to give it a try again but that was a technology during class when something kind of went amiss.

[00:19:31] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, it’s the real world though isn’t it, this learning process is fraught with things that go wrong and right that’s for our students, it’s no different for us too. I like that you’re not turned away by that because I do think with a lot of teachers that they think that the worst thing that could possibly happen is that something maybe doesn’t work as it’s intended and it turns them away from trying to do new things and I think that’s a real shame. So I’m glad that’s not something that you struggle with at all and I think that’s a reason why you’re successful because you are willing to try thing and explore and adapt and share it and that’s the real key.

So I want to thank you for coming onto the episode and sharing the things that are working for you and how you got started because it does help other people and just one more time, where can people find out your website and things that you’re doing?

[00:20:19] Ben Pirillo: It is at www.teachphysed.weebly.com

[00:20:29] Jarrod Robinson: Awesome, so we’ll link to that in the show notes as well and I really do recommend jumping on and checking it out. Where can, you’re on Twitter as well and other means, is that a few other places that people can get you?

[00:20:41] Ben Pirillo: Yes, yeah. You can find me and my Twitter handle is @CoachPirillo, so it’s just my last name. I am on Voxer if anybody’s on Voxer and I have the same Voxer username @CoachPirillo and I do have a Pinterest page but I’m not a pinner I guess. But yeah, the best way is Twitter, I’m definitely active on that most between that and Voxer.

[00:21:10] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, for sure that’s how I connect with you. So like I said thanks for coming on and I look forward to catching up and seeing what you’re doing down the road, thanks again.

[00:21:19] Ben Pirillo: Thank you.

[00:21:20] Jarrod Robinson: See you later.


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